Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Saffron Strawberry Peach & Vanilla Panna Cotta

I had a friend over recently for dinner who travels every year to Spain, so being the glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to attempt my hand at a Spanish-inspired menu: seafood paella (with chicken chorizo, shrimp, salmon, and tobiko), pan-blackened shishito peppers with smoked salt and shaved Iberico cheese (shishito because I couldn't find padron peppers at the market), and a vanilla panna cotta with saffron-infused strawberry peach sauce. Okay, so to be fair, it wasn't a traditionally Spanish meal, but the inspirations were fun to play around with! I particularly like this saffron-infused strawberry sauce. Strawberries on their own in a sauce tend to be a bit cloying and one-dimensional to me, so the saffron lends an interesting mellow exoticism. It's like that ingredient that you can't really pick out but the dessert would be otherwise empty without. I love those sorts of subtle hints. ;)

Panna cotta is one of those desserts that I just plain refuse to order at restaurants, because they're so easy and delicious to make at home! I like mine with a half-milk/half-cream mix, so that the texture is lighter and doesn't feel reminiscent of sunscreen the way that full-cream panna cottas do. But really, the name makes them sound fancier than they are! It's just milk jello, really!

Life has been cray cray busy lately, so it's nice to have this blog to escape to every once in a while without the pressures of being a regular blogger. Thank you all to those of you who still have me in your blog, email, instagram feeds. I think of you all often, and wonder what magic you're cooking up in your kitchens!

Read on for recipe....

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Traveling Desserts: Vanilla Pudding and Fifteens

What do you do when you're living at an AirBnB and having super foodies over for dinner? I was faced with this predicament when I was in Scotland for the summer (more on that later!), trying to make new friends by impressing them with my foodie skillz. :) It turns out, without an oven, or many of the conventional tools and ingredients of the trade, one can still turn out a simple but fun dinner party!

The main star of dinner was chicken soup, which sounds like a funny main! But, I had promised a good expat friend of mine (of easiest chocolate chip cookies fame) who pined for American-style chicken soup that I would make him some when I visited, so soup it was. The rest of the menu was cobbled together by whatever looked good in the local markets:

Chicken noodle soup
chicken (from a local butchery), celery, carrots, fresh tagliatelle

Pan-roasted butternut squash salad
ras el hanout-spiced pan-roasted butternut squash and red onion, sliced D'anjou pear, bee pollen, rocket, honey dijon red wine vinaigrette

Bread & cheese bruschetta
pan-roasted cherry tomato and garlic, mature Scottish white cheddar, sourdough toast

For dessert, my friend was going to make brownies to bring over, so to complement the chocolatey squidgy-ness of the brownies, I put together vanilla pudding pots (for which you really just need a whisk, pot, and jars!), with kiwi coulis and fruit. These were also a joy to make in a country in which vanilla paste is actually a standard and easy ingredient to come by! Yum. :)

Finally, I also made some fifteens, which are an Irish cookie! that another one of my Scottish-based expat friends made for me during my visit. Fifteens are a no-bake cookie that is made out of crushing other cookies (ahem, "biscuits") and mixing them with more ingredients. It's like cookie cannibalism! Traditional fifteens have candied cherries and coconut, but my friend, Jefferson, made them with candied citrus peel and almond, which I thought helps cut the ultra-sweetness of the cookie well. So here is Jefferson's version of fifteens!

Hope everyone is having a super fun summer. If you find yourself traveling but in need of a few super simple but totally yummy dessert recipes, here you go!

Happy ☀️!

read on for recipes...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Victoria Sponge Cake

People often ask me what my favorite dessert is, and I get stumped. I mean, how does one choose?!? Victoria sponge cakes, though, are often at the tip top of the list. Especially in June, when beautiful summertime fruits start appearing in all of their glory. The cake is like a perfect demonstration of how simplicity is often the key to classic deliciousness: what else does a dessert really need besides cream, buttery and fluffy bites of cake, and the best, very minimally-fussed-with fruit that the season has to offer?

Victoria sponge cakes traditionally are two layers of buttery yellow cake, sandwiching layers of cream and jam. I like to mix it up, maybe putting the fruit on top, or changing the jam to a rhubarb-raspberry-peach-saffron compote, or topping it with fresh berries, or adding in some sourness of creme fraiche in the cream. The cakes are like beautiful slates for painting on--little flourishes go the longest way, and I always have to pull myself back from doing too much except the smallest little tweaks here and there. Also, let's talk butter. Regular butter is fine, but if you want to experience the full glory of this cake, it's European-style, 85%+ butterfat butter all the way, okay? Please do try it that way. It's worth it.

Also, can we have a shout-out to Annelies, of the food poet blog, for finally getting me back in the kitchen and behind a camera to do some food creating and shooting? I have missed this dearly, so thank you, Annelies!

Grab some tea and a slice of cake for June! And stay tuned. Summer travels are coming up, so there will be lots to share! I hope you all have exciting summer plans, too!

P.S. If you have any recommendations for must see/eat/drink/visit places in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Montreal, and Savannah, please, please do leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Summer is coming

We've gotten our first spell of 100 F weather in California this past week. School is winding down. Summer! is! coming!

(Also, who's exciting about the Game of Thrones premiere this weekend, raise your hands!)

Monday, April 4, 2016

My best friend's wedding

My best friend got married a few weeks ago! The entire day, I had this opening scene from My Best Friend's Wedding running through my head.

My friend had a pro photographer and cake maker and florist for her wedding, but of course, she knows me well enough to have known that I would absolutely not sit idly on the sidelines. So she asked me to contribute on the fun parts for the wedding. Because how could I not when weddings incorporate some of my favorite things: flowers, photography, cake, music, and friends. :D

So here are some shots from her wedding from my point of view. I made the bouquet and decorated the cake (which was ordered plain from BiRite Creamery). My friend really wanted peonies, which are a wee bit out of season, so we woke up at 4am the morning before the wedding and hiked over to the SF Wholesale Flower Mart (an amazing place, if you haven't been) to track down fresh peonies for the cake and bouquet. I also love that it's lilac and dogwood season, so insisted on incorporated some of those into the bouquet and cake. I'm so, so pleased with how they both turned out! My cake skillz haven't completely atrophied, it seems!

As the maid of honor, I also got to tag along on the photoshoots, so naturally, I brought my own camera (You can take the girl out of the studio, but you can't take the camera from the girl? Or something). :) My friend picked these gorgeous spots around SF, including Lover's Lane, which is this beautiful trail on the southern edge of the Presidio, with tall, whispering eucalyptus and a thick, verdant blanket of wildflowers this time of year. It was such a smart choice, because the tall trees provided the perfect antidote to the high noontime sun, creating some awesomely dramatic shadows and stabs of light to photograph in. Seriously, this makes me almost want to become a wedding photographer. *almost*

(For more shots from the day, see instagram.)

Super congratulations here to my bff and her new hubby! I'm so thankful to have been a part of your guys's wonderful, wonderful celebration.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Destination 36: Los Angeles

I was in LA last week giving a work research talk, and afterwards, my colleagues and I took two very, very rare days off and did sightseeing for the weekend! I've been to LA a lot, but usually for work and almost never have time to sight-see, so it was really fun to be a tourist for 36 hours. Of course, this involved significant amounts of food, and I was particularly lucky because my hosts were really knowledgeable about all of the hipster hotspots. :D

The first day, we started off at the all-you-can-eat Indian brunch buffet at Mayura in the Culver City area. I mean, who doesn't want to start their Saturday stuffing their face with deliciously spiced Indian food?! There were yoghurts and chutneys and curries and sauces of all kinds, and all sorts of bread or rice things--gluten free and not--alike to soak up all the goodness with. The sponge-y type bread was one of my favorites: slightly sour, just like a mild version of injera. The brunch comes with a choice of many types of drinks, and I was so pleased when the guy brought out a cup of freshly single-brewed chai for me. ^^ They even have this dessert-type thing, which is ice cream with fruit salad embedded inside, like gems suspended in sweet, orange goodness.

With our tummies pretty much packed to the brim such that I felt sufficiently like Tubbs, we rolled out to start a day of sight-seeing. The first stop was The Museum of Jurassic Technology, just down the street. It's sort of hard to explain the Museum, but I highly recommend a trip if you're one of those people who appreciates tongue-in-cheek eclectic esotericism. I was hanging out with two academics, and so it definitely hit the right nerd buttons.

Then, we headed downtown to LACMA because I wanted to see the Rain Room, but alas! the Rain Room is completely booked. :(  But, walking through LACMA, I got to see Matisse's Le Gerbe in person, so that totally made my day. The piece is totally bigger in person than I thought! Alongside LACMA, we went to see the La Brea Tar Pits, which I was pleasantly surprised to figure out (after all these years hearing the name) that there are actually tar pits there! It's geologically really cool. They've also done a good job putting up explanations and exhibits about the fossils that have been excavated from the tar pits, like the Giant Sloths, which I'm hugging below.

For dinner, my friend took us to perhaps the hippest restaurant I have ever been to in my life: Baroo, in Hollywood. The restaurant sits in a totally nondescript, run-of-the-mill strip mall on a random corner of Santa Monica Boulevard, and is completely unmarked. (Hence, you have to be, like, you know, in the know.) The concept of the restaurant is based entirely around pickled and preserved foods, and at the back of the minimalist restaurant is a wall shelf full of random pickling specimens--grains, fruits, veggies. There's also a huge wall of cookbooks, which I enjoyed scoping out to see where the chef gets his inspiration.

The food was so super yummy, and I thought, very true to the LA maximalist aesthetic of putting a lot of flavors into one hearty bowl. I had the kimchee fried rice, which wasn't your regular kimchee fried rice!--with pineapple-flavored kimchee, a perfectly sous vide egg, crunchy quinoa, and this mysterious red powder (maybe gochu?) that was so addictively savory. My friend got the freshly-made pasta dish, with all sorts of preparations of celery, including celery ash. As she put it, "Baroo is an ash-type restaurant, not a foam-type restaurant." :P Oh, and though they were out of the passionfruit tart that I wanted to try, their chocolate chip cookie is *mwa* very good and the perfect texture.

The second day was spent in Venice, because my host insisted that--one--I needed to finally go to the beach in LA (I never get around to it, with work), and that--two--I needed to experience the new-age, over-the-top hipsterness of Abbot Kinney and the nearby canals.

We walked down the boardwalk and saw the famous Muscle Beach and skate park, and interesting characters like this insanely blue parrot out for a Sunday stroll. (I also got to leave the DfB mark on the sanctioned graffiti wall. :))

Then, we stopped in at Gjusta for sustenance. Oh, Gjusta. How to I explain thee? This restaurant/deli/fine foods purveyor/coffee shop housed in a warehouse is like, hipstery, foodie paradise. Every inch of the place is a perfect Instagram moment just begging to happen: white-washed brick walls, concrete countertops, enamel and plank serving platters, rough wood accents, cashiers wearing chambray and/or beards. My favorite moment of this sort were two bearded guys in flannel sitting on crates in the eating patio, sharing a joint plate of kale. 💕.

Good bread is hard to come by in LA, so I appreciated Gjusta's loaves, which are hearty and very good and perhaps only miss the mark in being not quite crusty enough. They also had bialys that were served with house-smoked lox, and of course everyone knows that bialys are the new bagel! (sarcasm) I got the pumpernickel bialy, which perhaps still isn't quite as dark as proper East Coast pumpernickel, but definitely was yummy. My favorite thing that I tried was actually the iced grapefruit yerba mate, which had a beautiful sunrise color, delicious sweetness from the citrus, and just a hint of the traditional smokiness of mate.

After lunch, we rounded out the day by wandering down Abbot Kinney and amusing ourselves with the very trendy business names there: e.g., two stores within blocks called "Herringbone" and "Flannel", the juice bar appropriately ironically named "The Butcher's Daughter". We also saw the canals, which I had only ever seen in movies before, so that was definitely fun!

All in all, I think we fairly successfully weekended in LA. This time off and sightseeing thing--apparently there is something to it!